Cup Tie

Well here we are. Saturday, brushing the sleep out of your eyes. Awake. With a face like a six year old kid at Xmas. You want to run down the subway behind the Southbank in your pyjamas smashing open the gates to see what ya got! What we gonna get?? Fuck knows. I’m old enough to know that running down the subway would be a brief knee crackling thing, a terrifying rush into the unknown. What we going to get? Beautiful jazzy slickness underpinned by a rhythmic and functional midfield? Or the disgruntled dysfunctional uninspired bootball? A defence that befits the description or a mosh pit of players running around like they have a bee in their quiff.

I don’t know. Here at the moment as a type this on my phone I’m in a pub in Wednesfield. It’s crowded with 11 am early starters. They ignore their fresh morning pints for a few minutes, glancing at it, unsure whether or not to have a drink and start that slippy slide into daytime incoherent beer buzz world. Few Wolves Dads too, fresh shirts, not very fresh shoes, elbows, bellys, loud a little, excited, an undercurrent of tension. I take a sip of cold lager but it doesn’t settle the nerves. Doesn’t settle the tension. Don’t forget in this world we live in it’s the fate of those that walk into ¬†Molineux that they will end up sucking on either the honey from the Golden tit or the jug of despondency. I’m not sure what I’ll be choking on later but how often has that beautiful green lake in front of us turned into a pit of tar? How often do we have a wet wipe thrown at us and the demand that we ‘finish yourself off’? But I notice I’ve walked the long way into town and I’ve gathered three very violent friends around me that I want to lose if I can.

‘What the fuck were you on about? Kwan? You daft cunt’

In town, the men about town. The pubs will be rammed. Elbows, waving tenners at the bar staff in the vain hope that sexy lil thing with the pink hair and push up tits will glance at your hopeful little mush ‘yes can I help you?’ You forget what you want for a minute as it’s hot with the scent of aftershave and sweat and beer. New season, ‘Tabula rasa’ the blank slate. Everybody on nil points. Sunderland got a dicking last night. People talking about new players. Nuno, Neves, Jota, Boly and people nodding like they know who they are. But these players have yet to be coloured in with the crayons of an eventful match. They are abstract and strange, exotic. You don’t want to say too much so you nod at the statements of those who still actually play football, who do actually puke on the touchline of the pitches at Fowlers park for Sunday football. What do I know? She spills your beer on your hand a little. You smile but she doesn’t give a shit.

Carl. He sent me a message after the ‘Dear Carl’ post and I’m thinking of him walking down the subway. Slippy. It’s humid and the walls of it are slick. People are singing and bumping into me but it’s cool because it’s the start of the season and somebody blows smoke into my face, then a nose full of fruity vape. Beer stink, hotdogs. Mr Sizzle crackling away. Another song. Tap pocket for your season ticket, is it still there? Yeah. Cool. For fucks sake I’m shaking and the old agrophobia is kicking in a bit but there it is. The pitch shining emerald and bright and it’s open and my chest relaxes and I take a deep breath. Thank fuck for that. Carl was good, he sounded OK man.

Middlesbrough fans are filling the bottom of the Steve Bull. What they like? Grisly bunch. Some obviously not looking at the Southbank, some obviously looking at the Southbank. I had heard some of their fans walking up. Strange gargled accent without consonants it seemed. Confident their spending in the close season would do a job and it might, or it might not. This is a skirmish of course and by the end of this season, well, we’ll see where you am eh? Other than that I couldn’t give a shit about Boro, but I was getting local and angry and the teams were coming out.

I’ve written about Carl elsewhere on this blog so you know my views on it but there was palpable emotion yesterday, on mens faces who you would be hard pressed to get a whimper out of if you were hitting their balls with a mallet. I just held up my card, looked at the pitch, the only lump in my throat was Ruddy walking into the goal mouth and not Carl…..but we were off.

It took me ten minutes to work out that these fellas in Gold were actually our team. What? I hadn’t had a drink before the game apart from a shit lager…who? What? The ball flicked from player to player effortless. What? Slickness and skills in abundance. Brighty gets the ball from midfield he twists, spirals, ball back to Neves the architect…he builds transitions from midfield to front line, he doesn’t even look. The playbook from the short time he has been with us is rote and pure dogma. He knows very little about the players around him but he knows the academics of the whole thing, what the plan is. He slips another Boro defence splitting pass and Brighty gets confused again and is dispossessed.

Danny next to me elbows me in the neck again. Bright needs to chill the fuck out but he reminds me of me. Always making something easy into something hard. He is a slalomer, in and around, jinky and low centre of gravity moving himself into positions. I want to sit him down and say ‘just boot the fucking thing into the net’ but what do I know?

Michaelangelo is attributed to have said ‘what is this dance of colour and light if the plaster underneath is poor and soft’. I agree, Nuno grooves to defensive foundations at that was very much in evidence. Boly, Commander Coady, Miranda all had some dodgy as fuck moments but they were moments that flickered through the mind in seconds, ethereal really as the ball moved with speed out of defence and into midfield and once again we were making moves…..hang on….no bootball. This was quality shit. I felt myself calming down after Assambalonga or whatever his face is tried to dart into our box with either Coady or Boly chewing his head. Coady amazed me. This player who I accused of running like he had broken arms shut me the fuck up. Scouse sounds echoed around as he commanded people, he’s a Commander, a Captain. Now all of a sudden it’s all nailed down and ship shape. None of our defence looked massively troubled at the weight of a few million quids worth of team having a go. Boly rubbed Assambalongas head. I think Boly wanted to crush it

Was it 33 minutes? A back pass that led Bona into the gold dreams of scoring at the Molineux BOOM! 1 fucking Nil, crowd goes wild. Danny elbows me in the head again. I’m looking for the fat Boro fan in the Steve Bull waving the fiver. Hahahahahaha you fat bastard, but he’s not looking at the Southbank any more, he’s looking at his shoes, rubs his face and goes up the stairs for a beer or a burger. Boro fooligans gesticulate, mime their violence. One-Nil.

What happened after that? Football. Chances here and there for Boro, a few for us but it had to be Nunos day after all. His Zen like persona has gathered together some talent and the basis on which to build a lasting legacy. This! After the clown Lamberto. A dynamic and creative team with a pocket full of variables in Cav and Costa, a team who know how to pass (if you ignore the first day at school nerves). Crowd shout for Nuno. Nuno waves…the noise inside the Molineux at full time was not relief, it was hope again.

Walking to the bus stop I wondered about the whole day. There was tension there, you could feel it rippling through the stand at various points of the match. Expectation is a bloody dangerous thing and yet we always cling on to hope, always. The Kwan is flowing through the team, communications and the odd pat on the back or off the ball conversations between players. Watching Nuno…Generalissimo Nuno stoic and unmoved at least on the outside. People walking through the subway were upbeat and vocal. The Zeitgeist was positive, the feeling to me at least was a good one. Nuno is a strong hand on the tiller and while other managers pray and cry out to God in the storm, Nuno demands his crew row hard towards shore.

So I lean my head on the bus window and watch Heath Town frazzle past and I’m calm and that hope that my team are ascendant gives me a little tickle on my belly, makes my legs twitch as I put my foot through the ball as I’m replaying Bonas goal on an endless loop. I look down and notice a footprint on the suede of my Adidas. I don’t care.